In a column in French daily Le Monde on Tuesday, President Nicolas Sarkozy denied that the Swiss ban on minarets was evidence that national identity debates, such as the one promoted by his government, risked fuelling racism.
REUTERS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Switzerland's vote to ban new minarets showed why it was vital for France to hold an extended debate on national identity despite criticism that it has only fuelled racist views.
In a column in the daily Le Monde on Tuesday, Sarkozy defended the Swiss referendum against widespread criticism in France, saying it had laid bare fears of a loss of identity that should not be ignored.
"Instead of condemning the Swiss out of hand, we should try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France," he wrote.
"Nothing would be worse than denial."
Critics say a national debate launched by his government risks exacerbating tensions with the country's large Muslim and immigrant population and panders to far-right voters in the run up to regional elections in March.
Sarkozy said integration meant a mutual acceptance by both new arrivals and the existing population of what each could bring the other while respecting certain fundamental standards.
France has seen repeated episodes highlighting concerns over integrating immigrants from its Muslim former colonies in North and West Africa -- the latest controversy centring on whether to ban all-covering burqas to be worn in public.
Sarkozy highlighted the defence of national identity in his 2007 election campaign and pressed for the public debate that is due to end in February with a list of proposals.
The opposition Socialists have also been wary about leaving the issue entirely to Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party and the far-right National Front and some on the left have cautiously joined the debate.
Sarkozy said he would fight any form of discrimination against Muslims in France, but added that they had to adapt themselves to the values of France's secular Republic and its strict neutrality in religious matters.
Without renouncing its values, Islam in France would have "to find in itself the paths by which it will include itself without conflicting with our social and civic pact," he wrote.
He said the question of identity had come to the fore in an era of globalisation that had both shaken up long-held values and increased the need for a feeling of belonging to a group.
"This dull threat that so many people in our old European nations feel, rightly or wrongly, hanging over their national identity, we have to talk about it together lest repressing this feeling ends up feeding a terrible bitterness," he wrote.
Date created : 2009-12-08